I know what you’re thinking: Wait? What does my education have to do with Facebook and Twitter??

Well, I can’t say it has a lot to do with your education, but you should definitely think about how it can relate. And that’s because one of the most important things to remember when you get involved with social media is that no matter how private you have your settings, there is still a whole lot of public. The things you post can often be found, and the pictures you share can often be seen. And when it comes to your education and your career path, you definitely want to keep this in mind.

A great way to test out how public versus how private your social media usage is is to Google yourself. And check out the Google image search too. It can be hilarious (didn’t realize that article promoting the play I was in during college would be right at the top!), but also a bit alarming if you didn’t expect so much stuff to show up (also didn’t realize I still had a Myspace profile and all my old pictures are public!). For those of you with relatively common names, it’s less of a concern since it’s hard to sort out who’s who and what’s what in that search. But for the rest, our stuff just pops right up.

Even though the Google search might seem scary after seeing all that’s public, there are a lot of great ways to use public social media to your advantage in life. The abilities we have to connect with other people thanks to all the different types of social media is slightly mind boggling. And when you attend an online school, you can learn how much of an impact things like Facebook or Twitter can have on your connections with peers, faculty, staff, etc. You can tweet questions at your instructor. You can have a casual conversation on Facebook with a classmate who lives halfway across the world. You can see and share inspirational quotes from your university on Pinterest. You can blog about your personal experiences in the hope that it may help others. It’s all pretty cool when you think about it!

However, on the flip side, you can also use your university’s Facebook page to vent about a negative experience or use Twitter to complain about a specific situation. And maybe that’s helpful to you, to publically express your concerns, but it also can reflect very poorly on your character. And it can even have an impact on your future career path. After all, you’re always told that no matter how much you’ve disliked a previous job or company, you should never badmouth them during an interview for a new job. And that’s because when an employer hears something like that, they can’t help but wonder what you’ll say about them in the future. The same thing goes for badmouthing a university. If you’re interested in transferring schools or applying to a program at another school in the future, they may do their research, find some of the things you’ve said and decide to decline your application. And that can even be the case with a job application as well.

Social media can be something that, when used negatively, can impact your future. And online students have to remember that more than traditional on-campus students, because you can’t just mention a professor’s unfair grade to a friend over lunch in the cafeteria and then forget about it a week later. Instead, your easiest option may be to mention that to a friend in a post on a university Facebook group, and you’re probably not thinking about how it can stay there forever and be seen by staff members or new students. Therefore, the easiest option may not always be the best one for online students, and using social media can become frustrating. But do remember that social media can also be a beautiful thing: a tool to communicate with people you may never find otherwise, and to enhance your online education by offering more ways to stay connected online.

In order to use social media to your best advantage, here are my quick tips:

  • Make sure to set your own privacy settings to the level that allows you to feel comfortable with the content you share. If you plan on using your Facebook profile to vent when you’re frustrated or share personal photos with friends, go ahead and do so! Just make sure that it all stays private to your page and your friends, and double check that it’s working (and again whenever Facebook changes things).

  • Don’t share photos, links, quotes, etc. publicly online if you think it’s something you’d be asked to take down if you were in a physically public space, like a school or office.

  • Consider how you vent frustrations. It’s always okay to say something if you’re looking for a solution, but if you’re just trying to release some anger, it’s not a good idea to post on the university’s Facebook page. They’re usually monitoring and will often take action – either to help you if there was a problem (even if you’re currently in the process of solving it) or against you if there’s anything threatening.

  • In general, just always really think about the things you post on public social media – such as Facebook groups or pages, anywhere on Twitter, pins on Pinterest, blogs, comments on websites, etc. Additionally, consider when and where it’s appropriate to use your full name.

  • Use your social media profiles and posts to promote yourself! Employers are probably Googling you these days, and the more good things you put out there, the better you look as a future employee. Think outside the standard social media box too – i.e., you can even use Pinterest to share images and topics that show you to future employers in your best light! A lot of positive stuff being shared can drown out the few “it lives forever on the internet” mistakes that we all have made.